Covid-19 News: Maintaining education and skills training provision: further education providers

1. Introduction

This operational guidance is intended to provide further detailed information on new arrangements and responses to questions for organisations delivering post-16 further education including general further education colleges, sixth form colleges, and other providers.

The guidance relates to the announcement made by the Secretary of State for Education on 18 March 2020 regarding cessation of classroom delivery for most learners due to outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19). It also covers wider areas as announced over the past few days. The guidance will be updated and expanded as further information becomes available and in response to questions from colleges and other providers.

Guidance for apprentices, employers, training providers and assessment organisations relating to the apprenticeships programme in response to the impact of COVID-19 is available.

2. Classroom delivery

Colleges and other providers are being asked to stop classroom delivery of education and training from Monday 23 March for all ages of learners. Providers are not, however, being asked to close their doors and stop all delivery.

Exceptions to stopping classroom delivery apply to:

  • dependants of critical workers
  • vulnerable young people

3. Dependants of critical workers

Parents whose work is critical to the COVID-19 response include those who work in health and social care and in other key sectors outlined in maintaining educational provision.

We recommend you ask for simple evidence that the parent in question is a critical worker, such as their work ID badge or pay slip. It would be overly burdensome on key sectors at this critical time to ask employers to write a letter on behalf of their employees.

4. Information on vulnerable young people

The definition of vulnerable young people can also be found in the advice outlined in maintaining educational provision.

For these exceptional groups of individuals, Government is asking colleges and other providers to maintain classroom delivery. There is an expectation that for provision for 16 to 19 local schools, colleges and providers should work together on arrangements that reflect local needs, including over the Easter holidays.

Colleges and other providers already have established processes to ensure they can contact all learners. It is important to maintain regular communication with learners and parents and maintain systems to ensure that regular contact is achieved.

Where young people are particularly at risk, or there is a safeguarding issue, colleges and other providers need to consider the position carefully, and it may be appropriate for arrangements to be made that enable them to continue to attend.

It may be appropriate for those in residence at a college to go home. Colleges and other providers will need to give careful consideration to ensuring that learners have somewhere appropriate to stay. It may be necessary for residential accommodation to continue to be available to (for example) international students, or those who do not have suitable alternative accommodation with family, or those who have particular needs that cannot be accommodated safely at home.

Colleges and other providers should continue to comply with the Keeping children safe in education (KCSiE) statutory guidance. Further information is currently being prepared to support providers with this which will be shared as soon as possible.

5. Funding

We recognise that this situation carries financial implications for many institutions, and we are working to mitigate the impact as much as we can.

To help manage this pressure, we can confirm that the ESFA will continue to pay grant funded providers their scheduled monthly profiled payments for the remainder of the 2019/20 funding year.

ESFA allocations for 2020/21 will have been confirmed by the end of March, and payments will be made in line with the national profile which will be confirmed in the 2020/21 Funding Rules.

Because of the activity-based funding model for apprenticeships specifically and independent training providers (ITPs) generally, we have published guidance for apprenticeships looking at the impact of the current disruption and how we can help to mitigate that. For other funding streams, we will be making decisions on where existing rules and models may need to be modified in relation to any planned reconciliation and future year allocations.

With regard to Advanced Learner Loans, the Student Loans Company (SLC) will continue to make scheduled fee payment to providers. Providers must continue to inform the SLC if and when a learner’s circumstances change.

For colleges in significant financial difficulties, the existing support arrangements remain in place including through short term solvency support through emergency funding.

6. Ongoing learning

We want learners to be able to continue to study. Many colleges and providers have experience of online learning and supporting learners remotely and have been putting more of that provision in place, but we know that some colleges might need extra support.

Any strategy for ongoing learning will likely be informed by the needs of staff and students, and their home learning environments. Where possible, colleges should:

a) prepare staff on distance learning practice through bitesize/refresher training sessions focused on how to use college virtual learning environments (VLEs), communication tools and digital and non-digital resources

b) use tools already available at your college including physical and digital resources, and how to make use of cloud storage systems (e.g. Office 365 or Google G-Suite), ensuring staff and students have log-in details and know how to access online content

c) provide students with accessible guides on distance learning, focusing on where, when and how they are expected to engage and demonstrate their learning and how assessment and feedback will be delivered

d) consider provision for partnership working with the relevant agencies (including Health and Social Care) to help ensure support for vulnerable children and children with SEND

e) consider how you will deploy your staff to ensure safeguarding and security policies are maintained. The NSPCC provides guidance on how to work from home whilst adhering to these policies

f) consider lesson capture to allow students to dip in and out of lessons at their own pace

g) be sensitive and adaptive to the wellbeing and wellness of both students and teachers, recognising that health and caring responsibilities will disrupt the teaching delivery and learning journey for individuals during the closure period

We understand that what providers can offer will vary. Some colleges have already indicated they aim to run a regular timetabled offer of online learning, which is excellent practice if it can be reasonably maintained.

The local ESFA teams will also provide support and you can submit enquiries through the ESFA enquiries service.

Richard Atkins the FE Commissioner (FEC) and his team of highly experienced Deputy FECs and FE Advisers have offered their services to college leaders that would like to talk through plans, concerns and issues. Our pool of National Leaders of Governance (NLGs) also stand ready to offer any support they can. If you would like to arrange a phone conversation between yourself and a member of the FEC team or an NLG, please email: FEC.OPERATIONS@education.gov.uk.

The Association of Colleges (AoC) can also be contacted for support and advice with questions relating to business continuity at covid19@aoc.co.uk. AoC has also published guidance on governance. Providers may also wish to contact the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA) and Holex who are also providing information and links to resources via their websites.

7. Examinations and assessments

No exams will be taking place in schools and colleges this summer.

Our priority is to ensure that students and adult learners can move on as planned to the next stage of their lives, including starting university, college or sixth form courses, apprenticeships in the autumn, getting a job or progressing in work.

For academic qualifications Ofqual will develop and set out a process that will provide a calculated grade to each student which reflects their performance as fairly as possible, and will work with the exam boards to ensure this is consistently applied for all students. The exam boards will be asking teachers who know their students well to submit, for each student, a set of evidence which will include performance in mock results as well as their judgement about the grade that they believe the student would have received if exams had gone ahead.

Ofqual and exam boards will be talking to teachers’ representatives before finalising an approach, to ensure that the approach taken is as fair as possible. More information will be provided as soon as possible.

For FE providers there are a very wide range of different vocational and technical qualifications as well as other qualifications for which students were expecting to undertake final assessment and/or sit exams this summer. These are offered by a large number of awarding organisations, and have differing assessment approaches – in many cases students will already have completed some assessment components which could provide evidence to award a grade. We are working with Ofqual to see what flexibility and pragmatism can be applied to ensure students are not disadvantaged.

Ofqual is working urgently with awarding organisations to explore options and we will work with them to provide more details as soon as possible.

8. Regulation and accountability

We have suspended Ofsted inspections and FE Commissioner Intervention visits and non-critical ESFA intervention.

Guidance from Ofsted has confirmed that urgent inspections where specific concerns have been raised can still go ahead. This will allow Ofsted to prioritise the immediate safety of young people where necessary.

We are aware that this will not be a normal period in terms of data collection and reporting and reasonable adjustments will be made.

9. Broader support to the community

Further education colleges are major community institutions and have greater capacity and organisational resilience than smaller schools.

We know a number of colleges have already taken steps to support vulnerable learners, or the children of critical workers who can’t be supported elsewhere.

This is a hugely valuable contribution; colleges have a vital role to play in holding communities together and supporting our broader national response to COVID-19.